Sunday, January 24, 2021
Sunday, January 17, 2021
“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." - John 6:38.
Who will show us any good? Where are we to look for the clearest, truest setting forth of his religion?
There is such a variety of Churches, there are such differences of form and of creed, there is such a confusion of ecclesiastical tongues, and so many of them asserting that theirs is the only faith by which anyone can be saved.
And meanwhile, some think it doubtful if any faith can stand. Where shall we find some real light - some solid ground to rest upon?
Am I mistaken in saying that this is a craving widely felt at the present time?
The heart of society just now is in a curiously puzzled and perplexed condition. It is not satisfied. People have the answers of their various Churches.
These tell them in creed and catechism, in article and confession, what it is that man must believe, and which shall be "saving faith” to him.
And all the points are well backed up by “proof texts,” which sound clear and unmistakable; yet, when all is said, people are not satisfied.
It may not be that they have come to actually disbelieve these doctrines, but they do not feel that they go to the root of the matter.
Now I want to set before you what I believe to be the true way out of these doubts, the true way to this broader, simpler, more practical religion.
That way, I believe to be, to look simply to Christianity as Christ Jesus preached it; to go back, as near as we can, through the narratives of the Gospels, to Jesus as he went about among the people, himself preaching his own “good tidings" - his own religion.
See what he himself said. how he answered people's questions; what he urged them to believe or to do, his beautiful, deep sayings.
These an old saying: “The Bible, and the Bible only." Well, I want to bring that idea to a brighter point still: “Jesus, and Jesus only, the special teacher for Christians.”
There is not a church throughout the world that does not claim Jesus as its teacher. The real difficulty occurs when we come to the practical application of it.
Those four Gospel accounts of how he himself preached are sufficient in giving us Christianity as Jesus himself preached it.
A great deal of what passes for Christianity in the churches of the day will fail when tried by this test.
Always Jesus represents God as only wanting our repentance, waiting to forgive. There is never a word about the necessity of the penalty being paid; never a hint as to there being any hindrance to God's free mercy, except the hindrance of a hardness of heart.
I want to set before you the simple Gospel which Jesus Christ went about trying to persuade people to receive - the Gospel of love and practical righteousness.
Surely the very heart of it all, that which was the central light, was his sense of the infinite tenderness of God, and of the blessedness of living in His love, as His trustful and faithful children.
Just let us recall the manner of our Savior's ministry, how he went about, what he taught the people:
Blessings on the pure in heart, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, exhortations to a higher righteousness than that of the Law as set forth by the Scribes and Pharisees; teachings about brotherly love – “leave your gift before the altar, and go and make up with your brother;" not doing anything “to be seen by others;" about the quiet charity that should not let the left hand know what the right hand does; about patience, and kindness - enforced by reminding them of God's kindness to all of us.
And the passage, "Not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that does the will of my Father in Heaven."
That sermon was what one may call the great proclamation of his ministry. Then, follow him in thought as he moves among the people, telling them of the priceless value of having the kingdom of God in their hearts.
And always he turns around from these thoughts of the Heavenly Father's love, to appeals for our loving duty! God's part was free, unpurchased love; our part He says is practical righteousness.
Never from his teachings could that false idea of righteousness be learned, which places opinions above conduct.
And it was not his teachings alone. These teachings were uttered in something nobler than word. The teaching was done into life.
And the Life was more powerful than the word, and so it is not merely “Christianity as Jesus preached it,” but “as Jesus lived it,” that stands for us in the Gospels.
The more I look upon that life of such sublime strength, holy love, and deep, living wisdom, the more I think of what Christianity was as Jesus preached it, and the more I feel how poor our faith in Him has become.
Place first a faith in those grand, simple teachings of God's love and our duty, and hold them up before the world with all the power of your speech and of your life.
(Adapted from an 1875 sermon by Rev. Brooke Herford 1830-1903)
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Let’s talk music. Specifically, Justin Bieber.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.
In the Hebrew Bible, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.
God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.
In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how human beings were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice.
They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." Otherwise, his choice, and that of Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God.
Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)
God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)
If he was able to freely choose to do Good, so may we! Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we can inherit biologically.
This is why Ezekiel records: "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." (Ezek. 18:19)
Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.
The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)
Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god."
Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)
Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)
He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do so. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.
We have the God-given ability to seek Godliness and that we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.
As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good and do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.
Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)
It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us if WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions. This isn't true only if we are unable to freely choose what is good.
We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.
And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!
Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.